Sensor laden pigeons test for air pollution in London

A flock of ten pigeons has a big job in London. The pigeons will be flying around the city wearing tiny backpacks that are fitted with sensors designed to monitor air quality around the city. The pigeons will live free for three days before returning with their little backpacks. The project is called Pigeon Air Patrol and was one of the winners of a contest called #PoweredByTweets that Twitter held last year.

The pigeon patrol is a PR gimmick meant to highlight the tiny sensors small enough to be carried aloft by birds. Those little sensors were developed at Plume Labs and are able to provide pollution readings that are sent to a smartphone. The sensors inside the birdie backpacks measure nitrogen dioxide and ozone concentrations.

With the app in hand, you can ask for readings in specific areas and get a reply back warning of any pollution hazards. The flock of ten birds is too small to give a reliable map of the overall pollution in the city says Romain Lacombe, CEO of Plume Labs. With more sensors in the field, monitoring would be enabled on a street-by-street basis.

Lacombe hopes that with the publicity from the test more volunteers will turn up to wear lightweight vests with the sensors inside to expand the coverage area. It's unclear if he means avian volunteers or humans, presumably humans. The second image here is of the tiny little pigeon vests, which are quite adorable. Research conducted at King's College London claims that 9,500 people die each year in London because of long-term exposure to polluted air. London isn't expected to be able to comply with EU pollution limits for NO2 until 2025.

SOURCE: New Scientist